Los Angeles singer and songwriter Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and the Tantrums has heard the band's new self-titled album called a sellout.
There are reasons that conclusion might seem logical. “Fitz and the Tantrums” sounds more like Top 40 pop than the group’s first two outings, with plenty of bouncy tunes — a hit alternative rock single "HandClap," "Complicated" and "Tricky" — that feel tailored to the breezy, dancy sound of mainstream pop radio.
The album also marks the first time the group has worked with outside songwriters — Sam Hollander, Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed, Jesse Shatkin and Joel Little, writers with track records of writing pop radio hits.
Such collaborations commonly happen at the urging of a band’s record label. Many label executives believe the best path to creating hit songs is to pair their acts with songwriters who have already proven they can write hits.
But far from perceiving the new album as an attempt to elevate Fitz and the Tantrums to bona fide pop stars, Scaggs sees the third album as a key step in elevating the group’s artistry and an album that digs deeper lyrically than the first two albums.
“This entire new album, for me, with writing with the different writers, getting a perspective on yourself, telling the truth about who you are and being conscious about it, this is for me our growth record as a band,” she says during a telephone interview.
Fitz and the Tantrums will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22, at Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville. Los Angeles pop group Phases will open the show. Tickets are $42 for reserved seating or standing room only, $35 for lawn seating, $25 for ages 12 and younger, and can be purchased online at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 541-773-6077.
A lot has happened in a fairly short time to bring Fitz and the Tantrums to this stage. The group’s 2009 EP, “Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1,” and 2010 full-length album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” got the band labeled as a retro-soul act for a sound that mixed elements of vintage soul and Motown with upbeat pop and rock.
Not wanting to be stuck in a box, the group broadened their sound considerably on the 2013 album, “More Than Just a Dream.” The soul and Motown elements remained, but the sound was modern and leaned toward alternative rock and pop.
The stylistic shift worked well and gave Fitz and the Tantrums a commercial breakthrough. The singles “Out of My League” and “The Walker” both topped Billboard magazine’s alternative songs chart, and positioned the band for stardom.
But making the new self-titled album came with some challenges when Scaggs, singer and principal songwriter Mike “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, and the other members of the band — sax player James King, keyboard player Jeremy Ruzumna, drummer John Wicks and bassist Joseph Karnes — headed into the project.
After finishing a tour behind "More Than Just a Dream," the group took its first real break. After a couple of months, Fitzpatrick and Scaggs began writing songs for the new album, but the creative juices weren't flowing. That's when thoughts of looking outside the band to help the songwriting process came into play.
“Fitz had severe writer’s block,” Scaggs says. “I was on the verge of it. I was coming up with all of these ideas, and I’d like them one minute and the next they were just not working. Fitz and I decided he needed to go into the studio with other people. I needed to go visit with my life. I wrote while I was away. Basically, that's how the process of work really started."
Unexpectedly, bringing outside songwriters into the project helped bring a personal slant to the album, with “Burn It Down” and “Walking Target” — two songs that particularly fit that mold.
“What was beautiful about making these arrangements and writing with different people is it gave us a mirror into not being so heavily involved in the over-thinking process,” Scaggs says. “It gave us a direction. What are you thinking about right now? What are you feeling right now? This is going to be what this song is going to be about. It’s based on what you’re feeling. This is all coming from you now. So it was a learning experience.”
Scaggs says she is curious how the new songs, with their somewhat deeper themes, will connect live. So far, she thinks they mesh with the older songs, and the band has been able to retain the spirited and fun vibe of their live shows.
“The story lines are a lot more personal on this record," she says. "There a stories of love, drive and desire cutting through the songs. I think trying to track that into our live shows is going to be a really cool challenge."